To brighten every home.
Throughout time, people have used textiles for both practical and decorative purposes. Heavy blankets and drapes would be woven to keep out the cold, and more delicate fabrics were produced for use in clothing. As time went on, more sophisticated methods of weaving and dying fabrics and threads were found, and soon textiles were being used in many grand houses and castles to decorate the walls alongside paintings and other works of art.
Arguably the tapestry came into its own during the medieval ages. Kings and noblemen would often travel with their tapestries rolled up so that they could adorn their tents when they camped on route to their destination. Often threads of gold or silver would be woven into tapestries, making them a very valuable gift or commodity. The richness of the tapestries hanging in a great hall of a castle of noble mans house was often seen as an indication of the families wealth.
However, tapestries also served another purpose, and often, after a great battle a tapestry would be commissioned to depict the event, much in the way that we may commission an artist today. After producing a sketch of the proposed completed tapestry, the weaver would then need to find the plants and other materials that he would need to produce the dyes to color the threads. The weaver may have used a variety of materials, including French or English wool, silk from Italy, and even gold and silver. It was a slow and expensive process, and sometimes it could take a highly skilled weaver two months to produce just twelve square inches of tapestry. When you consider the size of some of the wall hangings that have survived the years, you can begin to appreciate the skill and time that went into creating the tapestries of this time.
One of the most famous of all tapestries is arguably the 'Bayeux Tapestry' which depicts the events and battles of the Norman Conquests in England. The tapestry is 70 meters long (approximately 231 feet) and around half a meter wide. It provides us with just over two years of historical events that eventually culminated with the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
In the East, weavers were creating their own rich tapestries depicting their own history as well as sensual scenes, using rich, deep colors. As people began to travel more, they would bring back these tapestries to hang on their walls, and these are still sought after today.
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in tapestries in interior decoration. Many people still take their inspiration from the original designs of the Middle Ages, or the old Eastern designs and scenes. Some people prefer to produce or commission their own designs to mark an important family event, just as they did in medieval times.
With modern production methods the choice of tapestries available mean that they are available to all, not only the very rich.
Understanding the Art of Tapestry
Traditionally, tapestry can be defined as a hand-woven material either on a loom or with bobbins or needles. "Woof" threads run cross-wise over and under "warp" threads. Unlike embroidery where the design is worked into an existing textile base, in tapestry the body of the fabric and the design are created simultaneously.
Historical development of this form of art
Tapestry weaving came from the Middle East to Europe, being one of the oldest arts. Tapestry examples can be found in ancient Egypt and 8th century China. Paris was the centre of tapestry weaving in Europe by the start of the 14th century.
Tapestries for interiors in England became popular with upper class people in the late Middle Ages. Wealthy people liked huge tapestries containing scenes of aristocratic life, such as hunting. Biblical stories and allegories were also popular.
The Incas of South America and the ancient Egyptians used to bury their dead in tapestry clothing. Civic buildings of importance in the Greek Empire had walls covered in tapestries.
By the 19th century in England, the designs were coded in punch cards as holes on Jacquard looms. William Morris, the Victorian designer who led the Arts & Crafts Movement, was probably the greatest influence of his time.
Undoubtedly the most famous tapestry of all is the Bayeux Tapestry. This represents the conquest and invasion of England by William I in 1066. This tapestry is extremely colourful and is 231 feet long and 20 inches deep. It is on show in France although there is controversy as to who actually made it!
The Apocalypse Tapestry, which depicts scenes from the Book of Revelation, is the longest tapestry in the world. Woven around 1380, the surviving 100 metres are on display in Angiers, France.
The New World Tapestry is a 267 feet long tapestry which depicts the colonisation of the Americas between 1583 and 1648, currently displayed in Bristol at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum.
Wall mounted tapestries
From the Middle Ages to modern times, wall-mounted tapestries have been popular. In a period home, wall-mounted tapestries look superb. They can bring warmth to a room as well as a sense of history. A wall-mounted tapestry is a wonderful way to add a new dimension to a home. When mounting an antique tapestry on a wall, remember to try to keep it out of direct sunlight. Many of the old dyes were vegetable dyes which fade if exposed to sunlight.
There are two ways to wall-mount your tapestry. The cheapest way is simply to use a round wooden dowel inserted into cup hooks. The tapestry fits over the dowel and the dowel slots into the hooks.
Another way is to buy an extendable metal rod with decorative ends (finials). Using the brackets provided, the tapestry then hangs off the wall. The tapestry can be shown off further by adding corded tassels to either end to complement your décor.
Tapestries can often be set off by canvas art or perhaps a variety of motivational posters or cheap framed art
Over the years, tapestry style patterns and prints have found their way into a wealth of fabrics and indeed clothing.